In the beginning was the word
I was eight years old the first time I gave my first speech. I was brought up in the preaching and teaching tradition, both my parents were global faith teachers and healers. I was standing on the street outside WH Smith newsagent, part of the weekly outreach team from our local church in England. The wind was howling and people were focused on shopping, not listening to a young girl share a message about love and hope and making a difference. A few people stopped to listen, probably more intrigued by a child’s echoing voice than by the actual content of what I was saying, but in that moment, I was amazed by the power that words could have on people, to stop them in their tracks, to hold their attention, to maybe even change their behaviour and inspire them to do something different.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about my beginnings and my story. Even if my religious beliefs and the content about which I speak has changed, I feel a growing motivation to galvanise people to take positive action to affect the world in which we live.
I have also been thinking about the power of words – both written and spoken – to create change, and why, now, at this point of history, our roles as innovators and leaders is all the more important to challenge, provoke, guide and inspire transformational action.
Speak the Future
What future do we want to create, and what could be our bigger role and purpose, specifically at this point in time?
If we look historically at people who change the world, they have been innovators and communicators – whether religious or political leaders, businessmen and women, activists, poets, musicians, artists, authors, they have all had one thing in common – the power to speak and move people towards action.
We are living in a time of ideological bankruptcy, we only need to watch or read the news to see this around us. Trust in institutions is at an all-time low, the political ideologies and stories we have created to make meaning, to believe in, even fight for, are crumbling. There is mass disillusionment and a feeling of helplessness and disenfranchisement. Political campaign slogans hearken back to a golden past that didn’t exist. As the world grasps for answers, it regresses into tribalism, dualism and world views that no longer serve a changed planet. World views that deny the interdependencies of economies, political systems and most importantly a suffering and weeping earth, in a time of creative and technological disruption and rapid change, are not going to serve, or to help us.
As human beings, we have dominated, plundered and created both the mess and the beauty in which we now inhabit and, unless our thinking and our sense making evolves to deal with the complexity at all levels of society, our future is bleak.
It is words, written or spoken, that fill the vacuum as people grasp for answers and, in a world, where truth itself is under question and the manipulation of technologies and algorithms can sway and influence emotions on a wide scale, the words that are spoken or written become all the more important.
The challenge of our time
A few years ago, I studied an in-depth Programme on the work of Dr. Clare Graves, an American social psychologist who studied individual human and cultural psychological development.
From Grave’s research he discovered that humans evolve in order to adapt to the circumstances in which they find themselves to solve the problems that they encounter.
As their life conditions changed, their mind capacities changed too, in order to address the complexities of the new environments that they found themselves in. They needed a different way to think. In short, the human mind outgrew itself.
I think this is the challenge of our time.
Until the modern age, change was rather slow, so humans had time to psychologically adapt to changes in their environment.
The KEY challenge now, is that our environment is changing so fast, our psychological development can’t keep up. What happens then? We keep on doing the same things hoping for a different result, or we regress to what we knew in the past, to thinking that once made us feel safe, hoping that that will save us.
If we don’t evolve then we will struggle to adapt to changes in the environment in which we find ourselves. It is our thinking, and our actions that have been based on that thinking, that have created both the opportunities and the problems that we now encounter. Tribal, national, even organisational thinking, will not solve global challenges.
Herein, also lies our BIG OPPORTUNITY.
We are at a unique point in history given the technological advances that we have made as a species, to able to collectively imagine different lives, different work, different ways of being than we have today… technology, global connectivity, science, shared wisdom… all are pointing to the development of a new way of thinking and being.
So, what is the Innovator’s PURPOSE in this time of change?
I believe our role as those leading and influencing the innovation agenda in the 4th Industrial Revolution, is to elevate, to inspire, to use the power of story, of emotion and of fact – the great rhetorical triangle of ETHOS, PATHOS and LOGOS – to move people, communities and societies from A to C through this time of transformation. If we don’t do this, we have failed. We haven’t lived up to the role of being messengers.
The question is, what is the transformational gap that we need to close? Each of us have different domain expertise, interests and experience, what does it mean to speak the future in your domain?
The domain in which I speak, is the domain of creativity and innovation – the power to use the imagination to bring new ideas to life – this is the subject that calls me, but increasingly, I have been thinking about what does it really mean to me, to Speak the Future into this domain?
The Innovator’s Purpose
This requires thinking about the outcome that is being created by the innovations that we generate. The confluence between biochemistry, neuroscience and information technologies is changing our world, but if we don’t challenge the PURPOSE that is driving what we create, then we leave the new emerging world to chance.
If we are not challenging our existing assumptions around profit at any cost, then innovation may well, indeed occur, but at what price? This is not an easy question to ask or to answer, as it requires the ability to hold complexity, diversity and to think laterally, and this is hard. But this is the challenge we must rise to.
This goes beyond technological disruption and transformation. What we are really facing is psychological disruption, and that is painful. It is painful as it requires us to think and act differently.
The experiences we personally go through, and the experiences of the people with whom we work or serve will increasingly be disruptive; when foundations start to shake, and crumble it becomes hard to make sense of things. We need to be able to stand in the gap; to hold the space as innovators, communicators, listeners, coaches, managers, leaders, trainers and facilitators for this deep work to take place.
Psychological disruption and agility
I experienced one of the biggest and most formative shifts in psychological disruption at the age of 19. I went to Bogota in Columbia, to work with street kids. Exposed to poverty and injustice that my middle-class upbringing couldn’t prepare me for; children shot under bridges at night by the police, babies drinking coca cola mixed with milk in shanty towns, groups of children sniffing glue in the gutters, young girls sold as prostitutes as young as five or six – I started to outgrow my childhood faith. I didn’t understand it then, and it took me many years to rebuild my own psychological system, but how I make meaning of it now, is that I couldn’t make sense of what I experienced and reconcile them with my beliefs as they were at that stage of my life.
I went on a journey replacing content of belief with new contents of belief – the liberation theology of the South American catholic Priests, Socialism and the study of political systems, Liberal Economics, New Age Thinking – content, upon content, looking for answers, but all inside the same psychological construct. There are no easy answers.
We know from research, that creative problem solving, the ability to be agile and to adapt to change are the most sought-after skills for the future, but these are not really text book subjects. We have to go on our own hero’s journey and experience the dark night of the soul, and we have to be there for others as they experience theirs, as this will increase as disruptive innovation and the opportunities and challenges – automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and so on – that emerge because of it, continues.
Innovation at the level of paradigm
What we are experiencing today actually calls us to innovate at the level of paradigm – a fundamental change in the concept, practices and assumptions by which we live and work. Innovation beyond the product, service or outcome. Innovation at the level of thought and culture.
I think too, as the proliferation of platforms and technologies open to us, we need to spend time to question the fundamental assumptions of what calls us to be innovators, communicators, and leaders. It is needed right now so we can support the tipping points of change that our cultures will need to emerge through.
Human beings are master storytellers, great fiction writers, creators and culture builders. Think of the common shared values of political beliefs, human rights, legal structures and frameworks, even money.
If we think of culture as a powerful human creation, a fiction, it means that it can be re-written, re-thought, re-imagined. It means that what exists today; the way that we work, the organisational designs and structures that we operate within, the processes that support us, the way we manage, and lead others, can be re-imagined.
It also means, that even how we measure our own progress can be re-thought and re-invented. It doesn’t have to be the same as the past. In fact, it can’t be. We have outgrown the short-term ways that we measure results.
I was recently in Sweden launching my book, Yes, You Can Innovate with some business partners in Stockholm. When I arrived there, I felt like I had landed on a different planet, literally. In ordinary day to day conversations there were discussions, and challenges about food sourcing and how far food had travelled, people challenged each other about whether they could take alternative forms of transportation to flying, the recycling bins had so many different compartments I was dizzy and confused looking at them. And then there was Greta. Greta, a 16-year-old school girl go who has become a global phenomenon rallying children around the world to go on strike to raise a sense of urgency around climate change.
For those of you who haven’t seen Greta, do watch her TEDx speech she gave in Stockholm.
If we think from a Gravesian standpoint, children today are being born into a higher level of awareness than what we were born into, or what our parents were born into. It is their starting point for their conscious development.
Your BIG PURPOSE
You may work in the field of leadership, branding, change, transformation or many other areas, but my challenge is what is the bigger PURPOSE inside of you that you are yet to bring to life? How does the field of discourse that calls you, and your personal story, relate to the bigger collective story that we are all part of right now at this time of history? I write this as much to myself as to you. To challenge myself, that all I do about elevates and lifts others to take positive and courageous action.
As I think of the bigger message inside of me, I believe it is about encouraging PURPOSE DRIVEN INNOVATION, innovation that leads out from a set of values that is willing to struggle with the complexities of our time, that encourages debate, that is willing to hold the space for meaningful conversation and is willing to challenge the assumptions on which we have built our past and present success.
I believe, part of our role is to challenge ourselves, and those around us, with bigger questions about the meaning of our work, and of what we are trying to do. What promotes connection, warmth and justice, not just for humans but for the flourishing of the earth, and to grapple with the complexity that this PURPOSE creates.
What if we believed our voices are not our own? That our voices are for the collective conscious of the creative impulse that seeks to create a better, more harmonious world, a world at peace with itself, a world that strives for the values of goodness, beauty and truth, that is willing to hold belief lightly and let it go whilst at the same time is passionately determined to make a positive difference?
Find your red thread, the story that runs through you, and is you and radiate it through your gifts and talents with a commitment to raise the thinking of those that hear you so that they will change and be inspired to take purposeful action and create sustainable innovations that will help both people and planet to flourish.
So, let’s get practical.
If this is true, if this speaks to your heart, how can you take courageous and inspired action?
First, we must educate ourselves. Read the thinkers who are on the cutting edge of thought, from both the past and the present. Study social psychology and, thoroughly study the evolution and future of the domains in which you work, so that you can identify opportunities for where you need to help the domain evolve.
Second, deeply understand the challenges your listeners, viewers, co-workers and colleagues inhabit and the demands of the systems and cultures that they operate within. Become a liaison that holds the bridge between where they are now and the future that is evolving.
Third, and maybe most difficult, delve into understanding yourself, your own psychology and the subconscious patterns of your own behaviour. Practice and live a mindful and soulful life that sees your thoughts, and beliefs, for what they are, transitory and powerful impulses passing through, hold them lightly an be willing to change. Be open to life.
The Power of the Word
I started with my personal story, a child preaching on the streets with a story of love, hope and redemption. Whilst the content of what I speak about has changed, and both my spiritual and religious beliefs have evolved and changed, I would hope so too as over forty years have passed, the essence that runs through is still my red thread.
I have started to feel a similar fervour grow inside me, not for the same content, but the years of being schooled as a communicator; preaching and teaching college, and those early formative years of exposure to formal speaking traditions, are tumbling forwards into my consciousness. I’ve lived a life of adventure and change, I have been pulled towards the uncertain, the ambiguous and the unknown largely because of my upbringing, and I have my parents, who are still curious explorers, to thank for that. Decades later, I remember that younger version of me speaking on the streets on a Saturday morning. It was on those streets, that the spark for what I do now was ignited.
Words are powerful. Words are a creative force that bring form into being. Words exist as a bridge, a liaison between what is not here and creation. The void, and life. I believe, now, more than ever, trusting authentic, passionate and humble voices are needed to help us transition psychologically to a higher level of thinking that can move humanity and this planet forward.
Were you born for such a time as this? Be a Messenger
Do you believe you are a messenger in this time of transformation and change? What is the bigger message inside you that that you need to tell? What courageous step do you need to take to step into your role, a speaker of truth, power and ultimately of life?
We may call this a gift of transference, a lightness of being that occurs in the blink of an eye, and in that moment, we are changed. We need more innovators, communicators, leaders; innovators that are driving sustainability, equality, diversity, community, purpose driven innovation and leadership that can hold these moments of transformation for others. Digital transformation is just the surface, real transformation is psychological and societal, and it starts with thoughts and with words – the courageous written and spoken word that leads to inspired action.